Supergirl and Ruthye are on a space coach. Where are they goin’, I don’t know. When will they get there, I ain’t certain. All I know is they are on their way.
But wait, where’s Krypto the Superdog? At the end of last issue, a drunken foray to a red sun world had climaxed with Kara and her loyal pal pierced with arrows, apparently dying. But here’s Kara and Ruthye in a homage to Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, with no dog and no mention of the dog.
After five pages of Ruthye’s Big Bus Adventure, Supergirl wakes and, at a rest stop, is challenged by someone with a grudge against her cousin.
Later, the driver of the coach asks for Supergirl’s help against a metal-eating dragon rounding on his vehicle. Powerless, she comes up with a Hail Mary.
It turns out that ‘reds’ are red kryptonite capsules, which give most folk mild visions, but have the usual unpredictable effect on Kryptonians. Luckily, in this case, Supergirl gets a handy power boosts that allows her to rout the space beastie.
‘Now wash your hands.’
The quiet moment in the aftermath of Kara’s save gives Ruthye, who wants nothing more than to avenge her father’s death at the hands of a passing robber, a chance to ask her new friend a question.
After an uncomfortable encounter between Ruthye and a bus passenger hints that Kara is getting her super powers back, we finally learn what happened after Supergirl and Superdog were shot.
(I’ve always thought trigger warnings were a bit extreme, but, trigger warning for anyone who has ever loved a pet – I’m a jaded old comic book reader and this next sequence made me nauseous.)
The ending is ambiguous, with mention of a possible cure for Krypto. But by the close of this issue’s main sequence, many weeks have passed – even if Krypto wasn’t put to sleep before Kara and Ruthye left, is he really going to manage to hang on, on a backwater planet like that? Short of Kara having a mini-Phantom Zone projector to put Krypto in stasis, things are looking very dark indeed.
It really does seem like Krypto has been ‘fridged’- sacrificed to give Supergirl the impetus to join Ruthye’s blood quest.
Ah yes, Ruthye, the True Grit knock-off whom writer Tom King proclaimed would be ‘your newest favourite DC character’. Here she is this issue, narrating.
It’s too late, kid. I’m already sick of your wittering. I commend King’s skill in creating a character with a distinctive voice, but her mannered. vocabulary and cadence are truly tiresome. Maybe if we weren’t spending quite so much time with her I’d not want to gag Ruthye, but for crying out loud, whose name is that in the title? This is meant to be Supergirl’s story, but so far it isn’t. It’s the story of how Kara fits into Ruthye’s quest for vengeance.
Yes, having a new character make us look at a familiar face afresh is an established, and valid, device, but it feels as if King isn’t really interested in the Maid of Might. And I’m not sure I want the Supergirl that Ruthye sees – look at the cruel way she swears at the passengers as she attempts to secure reds. The glib comment at the nervous alien who has some. This isn’t your parents’ Supergirl… but why not? If Tom King wants to write a hard-as-nails character, create her! Don’t mischaracterise Supergirl.
Look again at that line after Ruthye asks Supergirl if she tried to avenge the death of her family’s killers: ‘In her response I heard a whole life of regret.’ Either Ruthye is emotionally tone deaf, or King is rewriting the core of Kara’s character. I fear the latter.
And that’s a damn shame, because he doesn’t get her entirely wrong. I never thought a page devoted to hand washing could be valid, but hey, we’re living through Covid, and rather than teach Ruthye to sing Happy Birthday, a very gentle Kara shares something of her background. The sweetness belies Ruthye’s observation that Kara ‘was never soft’, giving me a little hope that she’s being set up as an unreliable narrator, if not in the main story beats, certainly in her reading of Kara. For example, when Kara asks for Ruthye’s sword it could be because her immediate response to Krypto’s plight has her understanding the girl’s state of mind, and she wants to protect Ruthye from herself; Kara knows she won’t give in to the sword.
Kara’s unflappability is appreciated, the reds plan is smart and makes for a terrific visual callback to the Peter David Supergirl run, with Kara looking like the Earth Angel of the Nineties.
And Kara’s mental and physical strength in getting help for herself, Ruthye and Krypto is really impressive… you’d think our ‘newest favourite DC character’ might at least try to be of use, but she just hangs around the book being entitled.
And what’s with the jerk at the space cafe wanting to hurt Kara to get revenge on her cousin? Has she no rep of her own in this tale?
The Krypto scene really did turn my stomach, a combination of decent writing by King and the primal feeling most of us have for a pet. If Krypto is dead – as he is in that Future State Superwoman book that delights me so – he’s not going to stay dead. Meanwhile, though, I’ve had my heart broken, seeing him silently whimpering as he waits to be put to sleep.
Hey kids, comics!
The art, once more, is stunning. According to an interview King asked Bilquis Evely what she liked to draw, and he tailored his script for space Western landscapes and weird people, so it’s no surprise she‘s giving us such great pages. The bus passengers are a clever mix of banal and terrifying, the space dragon is magnificent and the emotions are writ large on the faces of Ruthye and her sidekick. Kara looks like a Forties screen goddess, and her temporary cosmic mode is thrilling. Ruthye looks like a refugee from a Flash Gordon serial, and is adorable in her space parka.
And the colouring of Matheus Lopes is, at times, extraordinary, from the blushed facial tones of Kara to the blends and graduations of the splash page Kara shares with the dragon.
The choices of fonts by letterer Clayton Cowles are very smart – storybook for Ruthye, straightforward for Supergirl, menacing for the ‘bothersome’ passenger.
The cover by Evely and Lopes is delightful, making the final turn the book takes even more shocking. That’s two issues with a very similar background tone, though; I hope Lopes varies things from here on – that green isn’t attractive.
As with last issue, the craftsmanship put into this comic is inarguably at a high level – it’s the story choices that make me sure it’s not a good Supergirl comic. I should drop it, but until I know Krypto is definitely dead, I’m hanging on to hope.